Philadelphia, PA – Removed appliances caused leak

By G.W. Miller III, Philadelphia Daily News

Residents of a Kensington rowhome may have accidentally caused their home to blow up when they removed appliances from there Sunday, allowing the structure to fill with gas over night.

When one of the residents opened a window about 9:48 a.m. yesterday, the gas build-up exploded, blowing a 33-year-old woman out the window, ripping the facade right off the building, seriously damaging three neighboring houses and causing a fireball that severely burned a 42-year-old man, Fire Department officials said.

The two were taken to Temple University Hospital. Louis Keller, 42, apparently the owner of the home, was in critical condition last night with 2nd and 3rd degree burns, police said. Toneshia Keller, 33, was in stable condition.

The explosion is still being investigated by the Fire Marshal’s office, but preliminary reports indicate it may have been caused by the improper disconnecting of a gas appliance, causing a build up of natural gas in the house, the Fire Department said yesterday.

The couple, who lived on the block for less than one year, was preparing to leave the Jasper Street home near Somerset and move to West Philadelphia, neighbors said.

Neighbors told authorities that the couple had removed their gas stove, washing machine and dryer Sunday evening. They were packing other belongings when the explosion occurred.

“I heard a really loud boom,” said Frank Gage, a contractor who was working on a nearby home. “I turned around and I saw the roof go up and then it smashed back into the building.”

Then he said he heard a man wailing.

Neighbor Maggie Jericho, 21, ran out to the scene in her socks and night clothes after the explosion shook her house, waking her from her sleep. She saw the man exit the destroyed building.

“He was just standing there looking at the ground,” she said. “He had no emotion on his face and his skin was just hanging off him.”

No one was home at the adjacent properties and no other people were injured.

The explosion sent bricks, wood and glass flying throughout the area.

The newly installed door on the adjoining home was torn to shreds with pieces scattering across the street. “The damage inside ain’t that bad. It’s all structural,” said Clark, 24, who was returning home from a doctor’s appointment with his brother when their home blew up. “It’s going to fall.”

A small, controlled fire burned for about three hours after the explosion as PGW workers shut off gas at the site. Service was not interrupted anywhere else, PGW spokesman Doug Oliver said.

“From a safety perspective, it is absolutely critical that you let a professional move anything involving live gas,” Oliver cautioned.

Donovan concurred. “If you don’t do it right, you could get a small leak and after a few days, you get a build up like this,” he said.